April 22, 2008

Time and time again, productive NFL players are found in the late frames of the draft and their selection usually goes unnoticed. Who could turn out to be some of this year's hidden gems? Here are a dozen names to remember.

Paul Smith, QB, Tulsa: Smith, a three-year starter and Conference USA's Offensive Player of the Year last season, passed for 5,065 yards and 47 touchdowns as a senior. He lacks great measurables yet offers a terrific combination of intangibles and toughness. Smith justifiably draws comparisons to NFL veteran Jeff Garcia.

Cory Boyd, RB, South Carolina: He's a hard-charging back with terrific size and above average speed. He easily adapted to a number of offenses during his three years as the Gamecocks' starter. He could fit in with a team like the Carolina Panthers, who are looking for a rotational power back.

Jerome Felton, FB, Furman: This triple-threat fullback has outstanding size. He's a terrific lead blocker who also can carry the ball in short yardage situations and offers reliable hands out of the backfield. His 40 (4.8 seconds) will push him into the late rounds, but make no mistake about it, he plays fast and is a good fit for most NFL systems.

Brett Swain, WR, San Diego State: He flew under the radar for most of the year but has caught the interests of a few teams lately. He averaged 16.8 yards on 58 receptions last season as SDSU's leading receiver. His toughness, smarts and hands could help him develop into a productive third or fourth receiver in the NFL.

Fernando Velasco, C, Georgia: He was a two-year starter at guard and center and earned all Conference honors as a senior. He's a big, thick blocker with excellent strength and has enough skill to develop into a starter if given the opportunity.

Oniel Cousins, OL, UTEP: This former defensive lineman is known for his work ethic and has the versatility to be used at a number of blocking positions. He's been lost in the shuffle of what is a deep offensive tackle class.

Brandon Barnes, OL, Grand Valley State: Barnes, a four-year starter at tackle, was a dominant blocker on the small school level. He offers excellent size and athleticism. He'll move inside at the next level, where he offers starting potential at either guard or center.

Darrell Robertson, DE-OLB, Georgia Tech: He's one of the many defensive ends in this draft who project to the rush linebacker spot. He performed well last season and had a solid outing at the Senior Bowl. Surgery to repair an injured pectoral muscle will push him lower in the draft than his talents warrant. He'll be a big bargain in the later rounds.

Stanford Keglar, OLB, Purdue: Scouts feel Keglar is one of the most underrated linebackers in the draft. He's a fast flowing defender with the athleticism to make plays sideline-to-sideline. He comes off a career year as a senior, followed by a great combine workout.

Zack Bowman, CB, Nebraska: He was a highly rated player after the '05 season but suffered a pair of serious knee injuries. He returned to have a solid senior campaign and performed well in pre-draft workout's. Bowman's knees have not drawn any serious red flags, so some team will see him as a good value pick in the middle rounds.

Chris Horton, S, UCLA: He comes off a disappointing senior season yet had been a productive player up until that point. He has shown an array of defensive back skills in his college career and could see extensive action at the next level if he gets back to prior form.

Matt Hewitt, S, Arkansas: In his first year as a fulltime starter at safety, he led Arkansas in tackles with 112 last season. His mark also ranked 5th in the SEC. Hewitt is an imposing defender with the size (218 pounds) and speed (4.5 in the forty) to surprise at the next level.

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